Management Tips, Q&A

Q&A with Colleen Robson: Growth Hacking your First Managerial Role

Colleen has spent her entire career in the recruiting industry, and she is a Clarity veteran with 7 years under her belt on our Team. As our Head of People, Colleen’s role spans across a wide range of functions including human resources management, employee relations and training, and day-to-day management of the temporary and direct-hire recruiters. If one thing can be said for Colleen’s time at Clarity, it’s that no two days have ever been alike! When human capital is your business currency, there are always new situations and challenges to address, internally and with clients and candidates. Colleen learned how to be nimble and manage these scenarios first hand as a recruiter, and that hands-on experience in the field enabled her to evolve into the multi-faceted manager she is today. Like nearly every manager in business, her move into management didn’t happen overnight! In fact, her role evolved over the years, and she had to adapt to a new way of thinking and leading. We tapped Colleen for this Q&A to hear more about her journey toward a managerial position, and what her tips are for new and first-time managers. Let’s get to it!

Communications Team: You have an impressive track record here at Clarity! How did you decide to move into the recruiting agency space?

Colleen: I gravitated toward HR & recruiting through my own job search right out of college.  I graduated in 2009, at a time when I couldn’t be picky about what jobs I was interviewing for because of the financial crisis. After a few informational interviews, I became more and more interested in what it would be like to become the person on the other side of the table.  I refocused toward recruiting positions, and landed a Campus Recruiting Coordinator at an investment bank. While I loved the daily  interaction with candidates, I couldn’t see myself traveling frequently across the country to college campuses, which would have been a constant if I grew in the role. On top of that, the ultra-corporate environment wasn’t the right fit for me personally, although I never would have recognized that if I hadn’t tried it out!  After a year there, I began to pick my search back up and make a change. I was then put in touch with Clarity through a friend of a friend who worked here. I began chatting with one of the recruiters to get an idea of the market and what other options there may be for me, and they talked me through what it would be like transitioning to the agency side of recruitment.  I had never even been to a staffing agency before, and had no idea what this would entail, but I connected so well with everyone I spoke to that I decided to consider it. After doing some more research and having a few more conversations, I received an offer and was excited for a new adventure at a company whose culture seemed like a much better fit for me! Needless to say, 7+ years later, it’s a decision I don’t regret!   

Communications Team: They say the grass is always greener when it comes to agency vs. in-house roles ー what was the transition like moving from an in-house position to an agency role?

Colleen: I definitely think that there are pros and cons to both agency & in-house roles, as there are with anything.  I’ve found that the agency-side, specifically at Clarity, has been an amazing fit for my personality type. Working in-house, especially for a large company, meant that we had very specific steps to follow and processes in place.  This was great for me when I was getting started because there was comfort in knowing that if I followed these steps, I was doing the right thing. After time, however, it felt like I was a cog in a much larger wheel. Once I joined Clarity, a much smaller company, for one, and an agency, I found that I held much more control of my own destiny being on this side of things.  If I wasn’t busy enough with what I was currently working on, I could go out and bring new business in. If things were slow on the client side of things, I could push to bring in more candidates and have a pipeline ready to go for my colleagues. I sought to work with candidates & clients who I felt like I really connected with. I also craved diversity in my responsibilities, which I didn’t have a great deal of prior to Clarity. In my previous job, I recruited college students for entry-level technology internships & 1st-year roles (and all obviously for the same company).  That didn’t lend itself to a ton of diversity in the people I was meeting or the jobs we were helping to fill. Even though Clarity is a small office, I’ve always felt like an extension of my clients’ teams as well, so while I work day to day in an office with 10-15 people, I’d be out meeting candidates, seeing new offices, grabbing lunch with a wide array of clients across diverse industries which was very stimulating. This is what I needed to stay on my toes and feel excited about the work we’re doing ーevery dayー even after all of these years.

Communications Team:  What was a pivotal moment in your career when you began envisioning yourself moving into a managerial position? How did you make it a reality?

Colleen: As soon as I hit my stride at Clarity I had a strong desire to mentor newer employees.  I ended up doing a lot of this, and loved every minute. After about a year of being at Clarity, my direct manager (who ran the temp division) went on maternity leave.  I didn’t take over managerial duties at this time, but the bug entered my brain that I had this skill set within that I was ready to cultivate. I did get to take on a lot more responsibility and help with training new employees, and then I started taking a more strategic approach to my work in order to incorporate this into my role.  As time went on, I found that my colleagues would often ask me questions about things that I had experienced myself, and I could offer my advice based off of what worked/didn’t work for me. It was during another manager’s maternity leave a couple of years later that I was able to turn my extensive experience mentoring and providing guidance into a true managerial role. I had been building the skills for years without fully recognizing it, and this did not go unnoticed. While she was out on leave, I was asked to step up to manage the temp division until she returned. The role was a natural fit, so when my manager returned, we had a discussion about making this move permanent, which I was thrilled about!  It was such an exciting transition for me, but mostly because I had approached my work through the lens of being a mentor, and someone who cared about guiding others, for such a long time prior. From there, I transitioned to managing both teams, while maintaining my book of business. This was a lot to handle, but an essential function we needed to build ーat a small company, you often need to wear many hats, and challenge yourself to stretch your comfort zone! To me, the most important trait of a good manager is how you think about your team. It’s a mindset, and one that I had to fully shift into. Those you manage will appreciate you and be happy to work for you only if you express genuine concern for their success, and take the time to coach them through anything less than success ー it takes a certain type of person who can do this effectively, and put others needs before their own for the sake of the team.  For me, this meant dedicating myself fully to the task, and our CEO agreed this would be the best move for me.

Communications Team: What were your first months like as manager of the Temporary Division? Is there anything you wish you knew about managing a team before you took on the role?

Colleen: The first few months as a manager were exciting and scary at the same time.  As I mentioned, the transition felt organic since my positive rapport with the team was already there. I found that because I had worked alongside many of them on the desk for years, I could have honest conversations and really put myself in their shoes (since I was still doing their job!). However, even though I had been provided advice to my teammates previously, there was an added layer of pressure knowing that they were coming to me for answers as a manager, not just advice as a colleague.  While it felt like a natural transition, at times I was self-conscious about the fact that I changed from a peer to a manager and didn’t want the team to think there was a cosmic shift to our relationship because of that.

One thing that was enlightening to me as a manager that I wish I knew beforehand is how different employees respond to different management styles.  Starting out, I found that there was a style that I gravitated towards. However, it has taken time for me to realize that some people on the team respond better to different styles, and I need to adjust how I manage each employee to foster their individual success. Like any team, it takes time to identify the best ways to relate to others. This all ties back into the mindset I mentioned earlier ー it was fairly instinctive for me to take on the mindset of wanting to dedicate myself to the successes of others, but it’s an active duty to maintain that mindset every day, and with all different personality types.

Communications Team: You manage the whole recruiting team as well as people operations now ー what is a day-in-the-life like for you?

Colleen: My primary focus, which is woven into all that I do, is fostering the success and development of the employees here, so another big part of my role is staying on top of everyone else’s day to day. My role has grown from managing the temp team, to managing both temp and perm  teams and supporting operations & HR of the entire office.  Since my role has expanded, there’s really no typical day to day for me, but I’ll try to break it down!  As part of the leadership team at Clarity, I work closely with our CEO and Operations Team to create and execute strategy, set company and individual goals, and ensure compliance. Prior to taking on these new responsibilities, we hadn’t a dedicated team member that was solely responsible for things like the internal hiring process at Clarity, nor did we have a formal training program in place. A big part of my role has been building and implementing these systems! Our CEO and I work in partnership to sharpen these processes in order to help the company achieve larger goals.  

As part of Clarity’s leadership team, and due to transparent communication being a huge value at Clarity, I have been able to manage all of these responsibilities by maintaining open lines of communication with our CEO. From small to large company decisions, I am outlining pros and cons side by side with her.  My role involves putting the best interest of the team first in order to shape the trajectory of our growing business into positive outcomes ーmy SHRM certification deepened my HR knowledge which definitely comes in handy, since I also run our human resources department. In addition, I field questions from the team about client/candidate issues, checking in with employees for updates on their desk, monitoring open roles and metrics, helping with tech issues, acting as a liaison for vendors, and managing special projects to drive company growth. Depending on the time of the week/month/year, I could be sourcing for internal employees, training someone new, conducting employee reviews, managing benefits open enrollment, running commissions, and so much more.  You may have heard this on the Watercooler before, but no matter how hectic a day or week gets, I know I can depend on my team to keep it fun in the office, and look on the bright side even in difficult situations ー this helps a lot!

Communications Team: What is your best advice for aspiring and newly minted managers?

Colleen: I think the best piece of advice I have for anyone who thinks that management could be in their future would be to become a mentor to people long before that.  You don’t need to have an official title to take someone under your wing, and it’s that experience with mentorship and as a leader on the team that enabled my transition to a management role to be smooth and organic. For new managers, keep in mind that you should lead by example and be a coaching partner to your employees, rather than a “boss”. Your employees are a reflection of your leadership. Focus on using building mutual respect and using positive reinforcement to encourage employees to perform for their own success, not yours.

Communications Team: Excellent advice, Colleen, thank you for sharing your insights and experience with us!

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